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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Global Impact of Climate Change

Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Scientists, politicians, and everyone in between have been debating climate change for the last few decades. All this back and forth leaves citizens playing monkey in the middle and scratching their heads trying to figure out what's-what.

Scientific, research, evidence, and some good old fashioned observation will show you that the weather is changing around the world. Climate change is natural, and has been occurring on the Earth for billions of years. More recently though, as industrialization, and the population of humans on this planet increases, so does the acceleration of climate change, and negative ecological situations in general. With so much unsustainable activity going on, the atmosphere is getting an overdose of gas emissions which are already causing trouble to our delicate eco-system. Talk about fanning the flames.

Food Hit By Climate Change
Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Climate change isn't simply about places getting warmer or colder. A change in weather at an accelerated speed will cause serious, irreparable damage to the planet and everything on it. Even slightly warmer weather will melt glaciers, ice caps, uncover new species which may become invasive, cause sea levels to rise further, and coastal areas and cities to flood.

It is up to society to keep global average warming temperature less than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. If we continue our way of life with business as usual, the warming temperature will exceed 2 degrees C, and we wont be able to come back. Already merging over the globe are droughts, loss of crops, species, famine, wild fire, and extreme weather conditions such as tsunamis, hurricanes, and twisters.

Also terrifying, are the erupting volcanoes. As the planet heats up, volcanoes erupt to vent out excess heat. 2013 marked a record number of volcano eruptions, and scientists are especially frightened about the activity of the Super Volcano at Yosemite! It scares me too. I wanted to buy an Earthship in New Mexico, but now I want to avoid that portion of the United States altogether. Especially with the problems the west coast faces with Fukushima. Meh. Regardless, even here in New York, I will face some kind of trouble if Yosemite's volcano blows it's top. If the eruption is really bad, it could take out the whole United States and nearby land masses. Between volcano aftermaths, rising sea levels, and choking pollution, NYC isn't the best city to be during climate change!

 We don't just deserve to survive on this planet. We deserve to thrive in a fresh environment that provides our needs. Let's take a look at some of the leading causes of CO2 emissions, and think about the active solutions we can provide and execute on a daily basis to reduce our individual footprint, as well as the footprint our communities, our cities, and ultimately the planet.

 Some Methane and CO2 Emission Culprits:

LIVESTOCK AND AGRICULTURE
One of the lesser known, but major causes of pollution is the commercial farming industry. The U.S. food system contributes nearly 20 percent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions. Globally, figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say that agricultural land use contributes to 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Factory Farm Feed Lot
Socially Responsible Agriculture Project / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I also want to note that cow farts actually put more methane into the air than you may realize! A lot of waste from excrement, urine and otherwise from the farms create waste lagoons, and there is only so much to do with all of it. We should probably get scientists working on making poop fuel. We have that stuff coming out of every human and animal on the planet. Am I right?

When factoring in  the manufacturing and use of all the things that go into industrial farming such as pesticides, fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking, shipping, lighting, cooling,  and heating... it actually raises the impact from 20% to 25-30% of the United States' carbon footprint. Yowza.

Switching from conventional to organic agriculture can remove from the air and sequester 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre per year. When done properly organic farming can increase crop yields and save water to boot. 

You can help reduce your negative contribution to the agriculture industry by buying produce from local farmers markets, or shops that carry local goods. Reducing and sourcing your meat, dairy, and egg intake from these vendors also has positive impact on your health.

(Related Green Monger Article - Reasons To Eat Local)

COAL
The global power sector generates around 40% of all global electricity from coal. According to the International Energy Agency the power sector is responsible for 37% of all man-made Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions. It creates about 23 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year! With a bit more than 700 tonnes a second. This pollution does not include the power plant waste that contaminates local water sources.

Coal Power Plant
Some alternatives to coal are geothermal energy, solar, wind, hydro, and methane. Methane can be extracted from our abundant source of landfills, and cow farts. I know that sounds funny, but with all the methane gas the agriculture business releases, might as well put it to good use! These are only the basic alternatives, but new exciting ways to produce energy are surfacing every day. We no longer have to turn to one source for all our energy needs.

Fracking has been presented by the EPA as a solution to global warming and coal, as the oil and gas industry advocates switching to natural gas. Truth is that burning fracked gas does next to nothing for global warming, and halts the progression of safer alternatives. Gas fracking causes leaks of the greenhouse gas methane, which offset the carbon dioxide reductions that come from switching off coal. So basically we are just jumping from one sinking ship to the other.  These methane gas leaks contaminate ground water, and rivers. Fracking also is not sustainable as it creates toxic cesspools of as a waste product which there is no place to dispose of, causing further sickness and contamination.

TRANSPORTATION
Air Pollution in Dehli
J. E. Poirrier / CC BY-SA 2.0
32% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 were produced from burning gasoline in cars, trucks, and aircraft. This may include boats, but the reference did not say. To cut back on gas emissions from transportation, you can carpool, take public transportation, ride a bike, and make your next car purchase more fuel-efficient, or hybrid. 

The consequences of our lifestyles and systems are starting to nip at us. The time for change is yesterday.

Climate change can be a really involved subject which I know I can't get to in one blog post, so I created a suggested watching playlist on my YouTube channel to fill you in more thoroughly. Videos range from starters to more involved. Have any suggestions for the playlist? Please leave a comment below, or send me a message on Facebook.

CONSTRUCTION WORK
The construction industry accounts for an estimated 5% of global carbon emissions. In the United States alone, the construction industry made up 1.7% of all the nations greenhouse gas emissions in 2002. The top carbon emitter in the construction industry is cement. Cement, the main ingredient in concrete, is in the ground and architecture all around us. Concrete is only second to the most consumed substance on Earth, water.

Cement production is growing by 2.5% annually, and a rise to 3.7-4.4 billion tons (about double the current use) is expected by 2015. Kilns that are used in cement production which run on fossil fuels,  can be about 40-50% of a cement producers total carbon footprint. Replacing fossil fuels with a waste-derived, or bio fuel would significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Eco-friendly design and construction is not only important to get the most stand alone efficiency, but also out of the materials as well. Forgoing traditional cement completely for other options such as hempcrete, would also make a big difference as it is a more sustainable, lightweight, stronger, breathable, AND carbon negative. Lime, the binding agent in hemp, also doesn't need to be heated up as hot as it would for concrete, saving time and emissions. Other benefits to hempcrete are a 30-40% less lumber used in framing, lower transportation costs, lower finishing costs, reduced HVAC requirements, and no termite fumigation needed after the build. One home can save over 90 tons of carbon when being built from Hempcrete.


Regardless of the great Climate Change debate, I think we all can agree that we have too much damned pollution, and waste of all kinds.  Its time to adapt to more sustainable practices and humane sourcing of renewable materials. You might just save the planet from a few angles.

RESOURCES:

How Much C02 is Created By...:


6 Ways Agriculture Impacts Global Warming:

Climate Change Causes:

www.peoplesclimate.org
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